Currently, no vaccine exists for hepatitis C virus (HCV), a major pathogen thought to infect 170 million people globally. Many studies suggest that host T cell responses are critical for spontaneous resolution of disease, and preclinical studies have indicated a requirement for T cells in protection against challenge. Recent research aimed to elicit HCV-specific T cells with the potential for protection using a recombinant adenoviral vector strategy in a phase 1 study of healthy human volunteers.
Two adenovirus vectors expressing NS proteins from HCV genotype 1B were constructed based on rare serotypes [human adenovirus 6 (Ad6) and chimpanzee adenovirus 3 (ChAd3)]. Both vectors primed T cell responses against HCV proteins; these T cell responses targeted multiple proteins and were capable of recognizing heterologous strains (genotypes 1A and 3A). HCV-specific T cells consisted of both CD4+ and CD8+ T cell subsets; secreted interleukin-2, interferon-γ, and tumor necrosis factor–α; and could be sustained for at least a year after boosting with the heterologous adenoviral vector. Studies using major histocompatibility complex peptide tetramers revealed long-lived central and effector memory pools that retained polyfunctionality and proliferative capacity. These data indicate that an adenoviral vector strategy can induce sustained T cell responses of a magnitude and quality associated with protective immunity and open the way for studies of prophylactic and therapeutic vaccines for HCV.